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Probes into missing CY money ‘covered up’

Pilots insist that the airline could recover if it is privatized with good investors

By Angelos Anastasiou

TWO probes into money missing from Cyprus Airways’ coffers have been suppressed, with government ministers and the company’s board dragging their feet in rendering the carrier viable, pilots union PASYPI’s head Petros Souppouris said yesterday.

In a news conference following the union’s general assembly, Souppouris accused ministers and board members of “failing to take the appropriate measures” required to restore the company’s viability and fulfil the five criteria set by the European Union to allow the carrier to continue operations.

“Serious mistakes have been made, the most serious among them being that they failed to replace the management that led the airline into this mess,” he said.

Souppouris singled out a statement by former Cyprus Airways chairman Tony Antoniou in October 2013, in which he spoke of “irregularities and misappropriation of public funds,” as well as talk of €100m lost by the Communications minister.

“This money was not spent by the employees,” he said.

He added that it was not just €100m that was lost over the last two to three years, but an additional €150m raised through the sale of company assets.

Acknowledging that the former management under Antoniou was able to bring down the company’s operating costs and limit the losses for 2013 to €16m – down from a projected €50m – Souppouris argued that the company was in dire need of aviation experts who could have completed the transition into profitability.

“Instead, the only effort that was made was aimed at protecting five or six directors,” he said. “We are extremely angry with this.”

“There has been misappropriation of public funds,” he added. “There have been probes, and instead of the company’s chairman punishing the directors, he forwarded them to ministries.”

During the news conference, PASYPI handed reporters copies of correspondence between the union and ministries, the Attorney General’s office, the Auditor General, the House President, and the House Watchdog, Ethics and Finance committees.

“Everyone washes their hands and no one checks the Cyprus Airways irregularities,” he said.

PASYPI secretary Chrysanthos Hadjichrysanthou said the Auditor General replied to the union yesterday, saying the company fell outside his mandate.

But last month, the Attorney General’s office told PASYPI that it should forward any evidence it had concerning the issue to the police.

“How would we have evidence, since the probe reports are locked in ministry drawers?” Hadjichrysanthou wondered.

Asked about the effort to privatise the airline, Souppouris said the union is fully supportive as the company hasn’t been competitive for the last ten years.

“Therefore, we need a strategic investor who can grow Cyprus Airways properly, in collaboration with the government,” he said.

He argued that, once revitalised, the company can contribute up to €500m a year to the country’s GDP.

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